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Kristian Vesalainen: A Jets steal at 24

McKeen's ranked Kristian Vesalainen number 9 going into the draft after a monster World U18 championship. He fell to number 24 to the Winnipeg Jets and now joins fellow Finnish star Patrik Laine. Here is a look at our McKeen's Draft Guide write up and a detailed scouting report from Jimmy Hamrin.

GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA - APRIL 14: Czech Republic vs Finland preliminary round - 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)
GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA - APRIL 14: Czech Republic vs Finland preliminary round - 2016 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship. (Photo by Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images)

McKeen's 2017 NHL Draft Guide

It is true that you only get one chance to make a first impression. As important as those are, though, more pertinent is that you never know when a prospect will be making his final, lasting impression, so it is extremely important to finish your season well. On that last count, Vesalainen changed his future outlook with a massive year-ending WU18 tournament.

As if often the case with draft eligible prospects playing in the men’s leagues of Europe, Vesalainen received limited ice time or opportunity to shine first with Frolunda in Sweden and later with HPK in his native Finland. In 35 combined games between the two high level programs, he had a mere two goals and seven points. His mid-season run for Team Finland at the WJC was similarly uninspiring, with two points as Finland barely avoided a shocking relegation in a down year for the program.

The man-sized power forward finally had a chance to play against his age-peers at the U18 and he exploded. Watching him at that tournament, the second year he has represented his native land at the event, I half expected blazing trails to follow each shot, like the Foxtrax puck in the 1990s. In seven games leading Team Finland to the championship game, Vesalainen scored six goals and added seven assists leading the tournament in both goals and points and walking home with the WU18 MVP in addition to his silver medal.

When at his best, he is an imposing power winger who has speed, dangling ability, and a nose for the puck. He is reliable in all situations and plays a generally reliable game. At his worst, he is a big body. The fact that he did better when given the time to shine and the chance to play against his age-cohort, is a good sign that he can reach those levels with experience and opportunity. We expect more ice time back with Frolunda next season.

As for this draft, his explosive WU18 tournament gave his draft stock a much-needed re-boost and he seems a good bet to come off the board in the 8-14 range. His bust potential is moderate, but the likelihood of booming is pleasantly high.

Detailed scouting report from Jimmy Hamrin, Mar. 11th, 2017

Skating: Powerful skater with good “wheels”. Vesalainen has good top speed and balance. The strides could be longer for a more effective stride but he is hard to contain when gets up to top speed. He relies on his upper body strength to keep balance. He lacks a bit in agility and does not have quick surprising moves and needs to beat opponents more with pure speed. Grade: 55

Shot: Vesalainen shoots hard but is not an effective goal scorer. His slap shot is very hard but he rarely seems to get the room to use it. His wrist shot and snap shot are fine as well. He uses his body strength well and gets a lot of power in his shots. His shot totals need to get up for him to be more effective. In the SHL, with limited ice time, he does not even average one shot per game and in SuperElit, where he really should be able to prevail, he only gets about 2-3 shots on goal per game. Grade: 55

Skills: Good puck control and a good passer of the puck. Vesalainen controls the puck well when at top speed and is hard to take the puck away from. He covers the puck well when he transports it. When he sees open teammates in high speed he can deliver precise passes. He lacks a bit in standout stick handling but the control is good. Grade: 55

Smarts: He is defensively smart in the way that he is an effective checker both in forecheck and backcheck. He works hard, especially in the offensive zone, to create chances and room for himself and others. The hockey sense is not elite, though. He is more of a simple playing power forward than a creative wizard. Often, he tends to play more for himself and has a hard time when trying to create good offensive chances. He seems to be more effective in senior hockey than in junior hockey where he plays a simpler game. Grade: 55

Physicality: Vesalainen is very strong for a 17-year-old. He is big and can battle hard in the tight areas. When his game is up he can be a big force for his team. He can deliver good hits and he does not shy away from blocking shots or working hard all over the ice. Vesalainen is tough to contain and is hard to knock the puck from. His balance is strong, mostly due to his upper body strength but with strong legs as well. Grade: 60

Summary: This has been a tough season for Vesalainen. The early to mature physical stature helped him in to get to senior hockey as a 16-year-old last season but he has not been able to prevail very often this season which leaves a question mark for the upcoming draft. The Finnish winger has good offensive potential if he figures out how he can use his hard shot and his teammates more effectively. He is a power forward and should be regarded as such. I believe that he has tools to make it in to the NHL in various roles. For now, I would say that he is more of a strong bottom six forward in potential but I can also see him helping out in a top role giving room for elite skilled players. For the draft I would say that he is a typical borderline first rounder or early second rounder.